Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Who says big business doesn't have a heart?

A friend of mine who turned a year older this week posted this note on Facebook:

"Awww. I got a picture of a birthday cupcake from the bank that I finance my car through."

"How sweet," I replied. "Next month, send them a picture of a check."

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Smiles from some long-ago summer nights

In my household, one of the pleasures of being a kid in the summer was the occasional granting of a rare privilege:

Staying up past your usual bedtime.

I can’t recall exactly what that usual bedtime was, but I know for darn sure that I was in bed by 11 – and probably by 10 – most nights.

But once in a while in the summer, my parents would ease this restriction and I would be allowed to see some of the stuff I’d been missing.

I especially remember one night when it was so hot that I and my younger siblings were allowed to sleep downstairs in the living room, on bed sheets, after watching “The Tonight Show”! (Not to mention listening to the national anthem at the end of the now interminable “broadcast day.”)

This was in the early 1960s. Johnny Carson had taken over the show, but on this particular night the host was Groucho Marx, who introduced a comic we’d never seen before. I still remember his routine – something about karate.

It was Bill Cosby, not very long before his groundbreaking role in “I Spy.”

Usually we were in bed long before "The Tonight Show" came on, though my folks might make an exception if it was New Year’s Eve.

But sometimes we made it all the way to 11 p.m. before our parents decided that enough was enough, even for a summer night.

One show I remember – I think it was on Wednesday nights – was called “Stump the Stars.” It was basically charades with celebrities. I never quite understood the show – I’ve never been a big fan of charades, and the charades that were acted out were quite long. Watching Sebastian Cabot act out some not-very-funny joke wasn’t exactly the cultural highlight of the season, but hey – it’s past my bedtime, and I’m downstairs watching TV!

“Stump the Stars” was hosted by a guy named Mike Stokey, whose whole career seemed to consist of hosting this show under various titles over the years. I recently watched one episode on YouTube. I’d never seen the episode, but it pretty much seemed like the few episodes I managed to see in the 1960s, with celebrities whose names will probably be familiar only to those of my generation and earlier: actress Phyllis Kirk, comedian Jerry Lester and the great actor/raconteur Hans Conried. In one neat live TV moment, the rather conservative Conried takes offense at something done by Lester off screen. (Not surprising, considering that the works of Noel Coward were conspicuously absent from Lester’s resume.)

Another show I watched way back when, but which I don’t remember too well now, was “Masquerade Party.” The idea was simple: a celebrity comes out in a costume, and the panel has to guess who it is. I found an episode on YouTube, but though it was enjoyable enough, something that happened at the end bothered me: They brought out another celeb, also costumed, whose identity would be guessed the following week. Nothing wrong with that, but when you’re watching the show 50 years later and you realize you’ll never find out who this person is, well, it feels a little creepy, though I can hardly blame the producers for that.

One series that I remember – and it’s well-represented on YouTube – is “What’s My Line?” I can remember staying up late on a summer Sunday and watching these sophisticated people play the game – live! And there was something thrilling about seeing the mystery guest come out, always to great applause.

As I watch the episodes on YouTube, the show seems exactly the way I remember it from when I was a kid. New York seemed a different, more magical place then, and even now it’s fun to watch an unmasked mystery guest reminisce with a panelist about some play they once did together. It makes me almost want to take a vacation via time machine: A week in New York in the 1950s or 1960s. You’ll notice I said “almost” – there would always be the chance that I’d be disappointed, that the world of New York wasn’t really golden but bronze -- or even leaden.

However, it is a nice place to visit on YouTube, which I often do when I should be doing something else like, um, blogging. (I especially recommend seeking out the episode where mystery guest Red Skelton is quizzed by blindfolded panelist Fred Allen. Live, ad libbed TV comedy doesn’t get any better.)

But it did occur to me recently that in today’s world, a producer would be less likely to risk doing “What’s My Line?” live.

Because it amazes me to think that during the show’s Sunday night run, which lasted about 17 years, with most of the episodes live, they always brought out a mystery guest and no one – NO ONE – in the audience ever yelled out something like, “Hey, it’s Jackie Gleason!” It probably would never have occurred to anyone in the audience to do that.

Today? I’m not so sure, though I’d be delighted to be proved wrong.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

You know you're getting old...

... when the TV news headline says "Obama addresses Iragi conflict" and you immediately hear Art Carney saying, "Hello, Iraqi conflict!"

Monday, July 21, 2014

Then again, sometimes a nozzle is just a nozzle

Whenever I pass a gas station, I occasionally wonder what Sigmund Freud would think if he saw one of those gas pumps that have a sign on top of it that says "Self."

Thursday, April 24, 2014

You know you're getting old ...

... when you find out that the performer whom you first knew as Gidget is in the new Spider-Man movie -- playing Aunt May.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

'Mr. Mariposa Bids Adieu'

That's the title of my latest mystery story, a solve-it-yourself tale. (Think Encyclopedia Brown.)

It's now available FREE at Over My Dead Body, The Mystery Magazine Online.

And you can read it here.

I hope you will like it. Please feel free to let me know what you think.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Something fishy about that ichthyologist

This morning I was watching one of the later Charlie Chan movies -- made by the bargain-basement (to put it kindly) Monogram Pictures and starring Sidney Toler -- when something caught my eye.

One scene takes place aboard a ship where a murder has been committed. One of the suspects, a middle-aged and cranky ichthyologist, is sitting in a deck chair, reading a book about his specialty.

When it came to designing a cover for the book that the fish scientist was reading (yes, you guessed right -- I didn't want to have to type out that word again), the Monogram prop department spared no expense.

The cover for the book, at least on my iPad, seems to be made from a paper grocery bag. (My mom used to make covers like that for my grammar-school books.)

On the cover, in block letters, is the title of the book, in its entirety:


I suppose I should give the prop folks the benefit of the doubt -- perhaps a longer title was planned, but the Magic Marker ran out of ink, the prop department didn't have any more of those pens, and there was no money in the budget to buy more.

(Which reminds me of how, at my former workplace many years ago, if your pen ran out of ink, you could get a new one from the woman who was in charge of the supplies -- if you returned the one that had just stopped working.)

Speaking of Charlie Chan (ah, I'm a clever lad when it comes to transitions, am I not?), a few years ago TCM released a DVD set of four of the Chan Monogram movies at a list price of about $40.

Even now, I'm surprised that the media -- or at least the entertainment media -- missed what I think is a big story.

For as far as I can tell, this is the first time in entertainment history that the cost of a DVD set has far exceeded the movies' combined budgets.